Can Systems Science Improve Population Health?

Speaker: Dr Alan Shiell, Centre of Excellence in intervention and prevention science (CEIPS)

Internationally, the percentage of people who are overweight or obese is increasing.  As a consequence, the prevalence of many preventable chronic diseases, especially diabetes, is also predicted to rise, reducing life expectancy and quality of life and increasing pressure on already overburdened health care budgets.  Some commentators have even suggested that the current generation of children may be the first not to outlive their parents.

Current public health strategies do not appear to be working and the complexity of the issue is leading some public health agencies to look towards systems science for insights into how to improve population health.

Systems approaches focus on the big picture, on the interconnectedness and relationships among elements, on the dynamic nature of the system and on the propensity for there to be unintended consequences.  Depending on the type of system we work in, there may also be implications for what types of evidence are most pertinent and how one should use the evidence that is available.

These issues and others relating to the application of systems science to build an effective and sustainable prevention system in Victoria will be discussed.